Exercise 1: Questions about Stevens, Creating a Class, ch 1-2

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Before our first seminar on Friday, September 4th, write 3 insightful questions about what Mitchell Stevens prompts you to think about regarding the undergraduate admissions process in Creating a Class. Identify issues that puzzle or trouble you. Dig in and get deep.

Post your three questions as a comment at the bottom of THIS PAGE, using your first name or initials (last name optional). Our seminar website is viewable by the public.

Read responses by other members of the seminar. Which questions make you think more deeply about the admissions process, and why? We will use your questions to launch our fist seminar discussion.

14 thoughts on “Exercise 1: Questions about Stevens, Creating a Class, ch 1-2”

  1. Here’s what our mentor Jasmine Gentry ’17 wrote when she was a student in the 2013 seminar. -Jack

    Response Questions:
    1. How can we, as citizens, desire standardized testing to even the playing field among students, yet beg for small class sizes that promote individual attention to the individually unique brain?
    2. Is a “just” educational system backed by a set of rules, or a “fair” educational system backed by equality, more beneficial to not only today’s students, but the functioning system of the cerebrum?
    3. Ultimately, which kind of “class” are we creating: a class of students, that operate behind desks, or a class of people, the kind that are recognized by society as a collective based on similarities?

    1. 1. Is there such a way to engage students without being to institutional or universal? Has one been proved to have a stronger effect on the students? Is the ultimate goal to move away from institutional systems?
      2. Since selective universities tend to accept students based on academic, athletic, art and philanthropic services, which all tend to be found in affluent families, is there a way to gauge students in other ways? Obviously interviews could show true character, but something less time and resource consuming?
      3. Our guidance counselor told us that most colleges have quotes for different ethnicities and locations in order to insure a diverse college student body, does such a quote exist for underprivileged students? I feel like offering a large portion of financial aid and establishing a quota could balance the affluence and present more students from different backgrounds.

  2. 1) At the bottom of page 9, Stevens explains that schools are to evaluate every student applicant based on universal standards of merit. Why are aspects of these “universal” standards of merit, for example SAT scores or level of athleticism, easier to achieve from those with higher incomes?

    2) On page 10, Stevens mentions that a college degree is the gateway to a financially comfortable adulthood. Based on this statement, why are colleges widely considered unattainable for those with low incomes?

    3)What are the results of “boosting” the numbers to make the school look good? Because the school’s public identity is important, what does this really say about the actual status of the school?

  3. 1) Why is it that this era has seen the biggest influence on the importance of a college education? Thinking about people like Steve Jobs, Clint Eastwood, and Bill Gates – all successful college dropouts – what is it about colleges and jobs now that make college degrees that much more attractive?

    2) Colleges tend to base their admissions decisions based on pieces of paper that they read, having never met the applicant. This process seems a little disturbing, as it reduces everyone’s individual talents to a few numbers. Is there a way to go about creating a more evaluative process so that colleges can actually get a feel for the student they are admitting or rejecting?

    3) Standardized tests have long been considered one of the most influential factors in determining whether or not someone will get into a certain college. Is there a way for students that aren’t good standardized test takers, or were having a bad Saturday morning, to show who they are without these tests? Should all schools become test optional, which would mean that students who aren’t good test takers don’t have to take them, or are there other strategies to find a balance between factoring in standardized test scores, and not weighing them too greatly?

  4. Is it in the best interest of elite institutions, and society as a whole, to encourage the shift from traditional social hierarchies to individual achievement hierarchies by making admissions more welcoming to applicants from humble beginnings so as not to diminish the American ideal of equal opportunity?

    In his explanation of the credential society, Randall Collins states that high society or upper class people strive for validation of their advantages from the less privileged. Is Collins suggesting that the motivation for the upper class to attend elite colleges is merely to justify their high social standing?

    If elite colleges benefit from the tradition of academic institutions being ranked using tangible measures such as test scores to determine status, why are many elite colleges making submission of SAT and other standardized test scores optional for applicants in recent years?

  5. 1.) On page 16, Stevens states, “the more people who apply to go there despite very low odds of admissions, the more elite a school must be.” What makes a school attractive: is it the status of a “very low odd of admissions” or that people genuinely like it? If we took away the names of the institutions and had people to choose their top decision solely on campus, academics, and opportunities, would they have the same choice?
    2.) How much does standardized testing account for in an admissions process at a smaller institution like Trinity College, where they have more time to thoroughly read the rest of an application?

    3.) Is going to college more common now because it genuinely does help someone financially later in life, or because people care more about how they are regarded by others?

  6. What does a liberal arts school actually do to set itself apart from the other more “standardized” universities?
    Since small liberal arts schools are not as “standard” as other schools, why do they have the same application process, with SATs, common app., GPA, etc. as other schools?
    At my high school there was a METCO program which brought underprivileged kids from Boston to my school in which most of them will be the first ones in their family to go to college. Why don’t they have more of these programs to help change the trend of underprivileged not attending college?

  7. 1. It is clear that the presence of individualism in institutions is beneficial to individual students and that the presence of universalism is beneficial to students as a whole, but how does individualism affect students as a whole and how does universalism affect individual students? Can individualism be just as beneficial to a group as universalism, and can universalism be just as beneficial to individual students as individualism?

    2. Is it possible to stop credential inflation from occurring? If credential inflation continues, will obtaining college credentials still be the, “widest and most dependable path to the good life that American society currently provides? (14)”.

    3. How do sports determine the prestige of a school?

  8. -In chapter one the author mentioned there was a increase in availability of colleges resulting in a proportional increase in college applications. Therefore there is now a greater reliance on statistics and “numbers” to access applicants – is there still a literal implementation of Individualism or is the term now solely used as admission propaganda?

    -In chapter two the author states that colleges justify using statistics to admit student because they are comparable and provide clarity because laws and customs oblige people to provide them with “numbers” in a standardized form – should colleges be legal allowed to misrepresent data as the author mentioned the college did in the ending paragraphs or should laws also oblige them to provide “numbers” in a standardized form.

    -With an applicant’s socioeconomic status being important to become an ideal applicant for an elite college, without the need to fulfill “status honor” – how important would we classify colleges and its influence in getting jobs, are they solely relevant for crossing socioeconomic borders?

  9. 1. How is it possible to take a universal approach to an admissions decision while ensuring there is a diverse admitted group? Is that possible?
    2. Is there a way to create a hierarchy based on education when the best educated come mainly from privileged backgrounds? Won’t the problem argued in the reproduction thesis continue?
    3. Would paying less attention to the numbers of each school even out the socioeconomic disparities in the admissions process?

  10. On page 22, it says that “Upper middle class Americans have responded to the triumph of educational meritocracy by creating a whole new way of life organized around the production of measurably talented children and the delivery of news about kids to the right places at the right times. “ I interpreted this as parents making decisions that they believe will benefit their children’s futures. Is spending money on a post graduate year or even holding a child back really beneficial in the long run?

    Throughout the readings, I kept coming across the idea that parents greatly benefit their children in the college admissions process. This process starts at a young age, and develops into an even larger process into high school. This brought my thoughts to the idea of legacies at colleges. How valued are legacies at a college today?

    On page 36 is says that “Numbers facilitate decisive competition.” When colleges are competing in the numbers game, does diversity and variety of culture and/or character override an acceptable academic level? In the minds of an admissions counselor, is this a constant struggle, or easy to decipher?

  11. 1. Aside from smaller classes which allow professors to have more exclusive experiences with the students, are there any other things that set apart a liberal arts college from bigger universities?
    2. How did the pursuit of college credentials became “the widest and most depend- able path to the good life that American society currently provides”?
    3. What makes the schools consider as top of the nation, so superior to every other college or university, and how much do the names of the so considered to be elite colleges influence the decision of applicants?

  12. 1.) There are clearly benefits to having a universal approach to admissions and benefits to an individual approach to admissions. All colleges use some type of combination of these strategies to choose their student body. Of these two which is more important to have present in the admissions process?

    2.) On pages 19-22 Stevens argues that that the college process is skewed towards the wealthy, even though many have said that the college process can sometimes favor the less fortunate. Which side do you agree with? Do both of these arguments equal each other out?

    3.) Having favorable numbers for statistics like diversity, international students, and out of state students are obviously very important to colleges. Is it unfair that colleges may accept less qualified students over other students who academically are more impressive simply to meet a number quota that the college has chosen?

  13. 1. If you are not born with racial or economic privilege is a prestigious education the only way to climb the American social caste?
    2. If all students strive to be the “perfect” applicants (athlete, scholar, art background, community service etc.) for these “elite” institutions then does this add to “universal” standards of education?
    3. If students apply to “elite” colleges to get the best education they can then why do athletics matter on who gets accepted or denied?

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